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Industrial Art at the Michener Museum through October 25, 2015: Pennsylvania Labor History

Walter Emerson Baum (1884-1956) South Side, Easton (Industrial Scene, Easton) c. 1940 Oil on Canvas
Walter Emerson Baum (1884-1956) South Side, Easton (Industrial Scene, Easton) c. 1940 Oil on Canvas.  James Michener Art Museum, Photo by Wayne Stratz(2015).

Stratoz and I went to see the Iron and Coal, Petroleum and Steel: Industrial Art from the Steidle Collection Exhibit at the James Michener Art Museum(on view until October 25, 2015).  I was interested to note the context of this collection, assembled by the Edward Steidle(1887-1977) Dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State.  Steidle purchased and commissioned these paintings to as a way to demonstrate the various industrial processes and the critical role of the extractive industries in Pennsylvania to his students.  The Industrial Art homage at the Michener is notable for the predominance of flame, with the glowing orange of molten steel.  Artists were drawn like moths to a flame, and each had a style that captured the scenes of the furnaces in a different way.  The blazing colors are beautiful, and yet ominous in the power to cause injury and in their intense heat.

I’d never seen a steel factory until I moved to Bethlehem, PA, from Canada in 1985.  It rose up like a mountain from the South Side, and had produced steel for the Golden Gate bridge and much of the New York skyline.  1985 was at the tail end of the Steel, losing money, cutting workers.  When I started college a few years later, I took a class in United States Labor History, and have been drawn to stories like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and the poetry of Muriel Rukeyser who wrote movingly of the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster.

ohn Willard Raught (1857-1931) Anthracite Colliery, 1925 Oil on Canvas (Dunmore native)
John Willard Raught (1857-1931) Anthracite Colliery, 1925 Oil on Canvas (Dunmore native). James Michener Art Museum. Photo by Wayne Stratz(2015).

We lived in Dunmore, PA in the early 1990’s. The coal mining industry left its mark with a network of tunnels beneath the town, and the threat of homes and grounds sinking.  Subsidence was a new word that I learned in those years, especially when a hole opened up in a friend’s backyard in a neighboring town.   I was interested to see that the Michener exhibit had a painting by a Dunmorean, John Willard Raught(1857-1931).  He studied art in New York City, and returned home to paint portraits and landscapes of the area.  He had an exhibit at a local club in 1915, where most of the paintings appear to be tranquil landscapes rather than the mining scenes. The Michener Museum notes that Raught felt conflicted by the coal industry which while providing jobs for those he knew, also scarred the landscape, and the forboding fears of disaster, and painted many of the anthracite breakers which he called “Black Castles.”



G is for Grey Towers and Gifford Pinchot, A to Z Challenge 2013

Grey Towers Milford PA
Grey Towers Milford PA, home to Gifford Pinchot(1865-1946). Photo by Wayne Stratz.


G is for Grey Towers, the home of Gifford and Cornelia Pinchot(1881-1960)and built by Gifford’s parents James and Mary Pinchot in Milford, PA.  Grey Towers is now a National Historic Site. Gifford Pinchot had a passion for forestry and is a father of sustainable forest programs in the US, and also served two terms as governor of Pennsylvania.  Note the majestic mustache.

Gifford Pinchot
Gifford Pinchot

Cornelia Pinchot campaigned for women’s right to vote, child labor laws and after her husband died, ran for the governorship, as well as for Congress.

Grey Towers, Dining Room Finger Bowl
Grey Towers, Dining Room Finger Bowl. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

Stratoz and I had driven by the signs for Grey Towers many times but it was closed for renovations;  finally we stopped in 2002 when it had reopened and took a tour. It rises up like a miniature castle, made of PA bluestone.  Beyond it’s formal appearance, we discovered the Cornelia’s sense of playfulness, with the outdoor dining room table called the Finger Bowl.  Guests passed the dishes afloat.

The Archives at Grey Towers, Milford, PA
The Letter Box at Grey Towers, Milford, PA. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

The Letter Box was an office for Gifford Pinchot and archive of his papers, which are now at the Library of Congress.  At the end of a reflecting pool was the Bait Box, a playhouse for the Pinchot’s son.  There was some larger than life Maple Leaf wallpaper inside the mansion, and I discovered that Gifford’s father made his fortune in wallpaper.


A to Z Blogging Challenge April 2013

R is For Muriel Rukeyser: To Reach Beyond Ourselves

The Universe is Made of Stories

In college, I took a class on the history of the American Labor movement in the first part of the 20th Century, and learned of tragedies like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, where women workers died because the fire doors were chained shut by the company to prevent theft.  Being a poet, I came upon the idea of writing a paper about poetry of the labor movement, and this introduced me one of my favorite poets, Muriel Rukeyser.  She wrote a powerful poem series, The Book of the Dead(1938), about the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster in West Virginia, where Union Carbide had mostly African American workers tunnel through pure silica without any masks, and many died from silicosis of the lungs. She writes about a black man in George Robinson: Blues, who testified at the hearings about the tunnel:

As dark as I am, when I came out at morning after the tunnel at night,
with a white man, nobody could have told which man was white.
The dust had covered us both, and the dust was white.

In Absalom, she writes of a mother looking for the cause of her sons’ deaths:

The oldest son was twenty-three.
The next son was twenty-one.
The youngest son was eighteen.
They called it pneumonia at first.
They would pronounce it fever.
Shirley asked that we try to find out.
That’s how they learned what the trouble was.


       I open out a way, they have covered my sky with crystal
       I come forth by day, I am born a second time,
       I force a way through, and I know the gate
       I shall journey over the earth among the living.


       He shall not be diminished, never;
       I shall give a mouth to my son.
Poem” from 1968, describes living in the first century of World Wars, of news pouring out of various
devices, of the despair, but also hope, and sounds very much like it could be from today:


By Muriel Rukeyser 1913–1980
I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.


I lived in the first century of these wars.



The Triangle Shirtwaist Jazz Project: A Way to Back the Arts with Kickstarter

Triangle Trivet by Margaret Almon
Red and Black Pinwheel Mosaic Trivet by Margaret Almon.

Kickstarter has gotten my imagination, with the possibility of helping living artists create their work.  Stratoz and I contributed to The Triangle Shirtwaist Jazz Project, by composer Jim Kuemmerle. As he says in describing his project:

Next March 25th is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, a horrific tragedy that inspired a wave of governmental and workplace reform.

For this past year, I’ve been composing and arranging a series of instrumental jazz pieces that together honor and reinterpret the story of the Triangle factory. They incorporate influences from traditional East European, Jewish, and Italian folk and sacred music, as well as influences from across the spectrum of jazz.

146 people died in the fire, mostly young immigrant women, because the all the doors were locked at closing time because the owners wanted to search the workers as they left. Ironically, the shirtwaist was an article of clothing that many women found a relief, because it was much more comfortable than corsets and hoop skirts, and in my post about Tiffany glass artist Clara Driscoll, she is shown wearing a shirtwaist blouse.

When I was an undergraduate, I took a class in the history of the labor movement in the United States, and was very moved by the account of this fire, as well as the story of the Lawrence textile workers'(mostly women and girls)strike of 1912, and wrote a series of poems for my MFA in creative writing on women workers.  Triangles have been a favorite motif in my mosaics, especially those from quilt blocks like “Spinning Pinwheel” and “Broken Dishes” and remind me of how quilts were usually the work of women’s hands.

In 2007,  Kuemmerle wrote a composition  entitled “Kolmio,” which means ‘triangle’ in Finnish. This piece was written for a modern dance project at Arizona State University.

An interview with a woman who worked in the Triangle Factory as a girl.

Over at Stratoz’s Blog:

Jazz on Tuesdays:  Labor History with Jim Kuemmerle


UPDATE:  Goal was met, and we received our CD and have listened to it with pleasure.  Review of Jim Kuemmerle Triangle Shirtwaist Jazz Project.